Anti-Family Republicans?

As you may know, recently a U.S. political party trampled upon the Gospel and Judeo-Christian values in an effort to destroy traditional marriage and the family. Through this rabid secularism, the party sought to maximize state power, claiming for the government the natural rights of parents over their children.

It was the Republicans.

In an ironic twist to an already-bizarre year in politics, many Republicans who recently defended Trump’s family separation policy claimed that it was simply “the law” and could not be changed. President Trump himself said he could not change the policy, blaming it on President Obama – even though it was clearly implemented by Trump’s own attorney general.

While Trump could indeed change the policy, as he just did, even worse than this inaccuracy was the frequent implication that the policy was legitimate and impervious to moral critique just because it was the policy. At best, Republicans advocated a positivism that looks a lot like the Nuremberg defense: “An order is an order, and we were just following orders.” At worst, Republicans have embraced a kind of secularism that divorces policy from morality.

There is more than a touch of irony here. Many Republicans and conservatives reject this sort of secularism in other policy areas, routinely blaming the Left for it. In their best moments, conservatives know any attempt to divorce politics from morality is self-defeating: it only means acceding to the power of some covert morality. In the case of Trump’s family separation policy, the covert morality is the populism that defends American interests at apparently any price – even at the cost of the GOP’s own Christian values.

Moreover, the GOP has long positioned itself as the defender of traditional marriage. Isn’t it the Democrats who are supposed to be destroying marriage with civil unions and gay marriage and all of that? So why is the GOP defending the separation of families? Does it think that its credibility on marriage and sexuality is so robust that it can afford to burn some of it? Or does it think that Scriptural teachings on marriage only apply to American families? In that case, the Republicans are not secularists but merely relativists. But, again, it’s supposed to be Democrats who do not believe in moral absolutes.

Here’s another irony: Religious Freedom Week begins today. Religious liberty has a bad rap among many Americans in part because it seems to be something that conservative Christians want for themselves, not for others. And when the GOP thinks that baking a cake violates the Gospel but removing children from their parents somehow does not, it only fuels the fear that religious liberty is a power grab.

I don’t blame Trump for all of this mess: Trump is as much of a symptom as a cause of our current predicament. He merely took advantage of voters’ accumulating anger at decades of selfish and power-hungry politicians, a game by the way that many religious leaders on the Left and Right also played, although for only a fraction of the influence.

Indeed, there are a lot of reasons for citizens to be angry, fearful and bitter. But Americans need to take responsibility for those emotions. As Brittany Mohr, my friend and the sister of Michael Mohr, SJ, asked me in a recent message that inspired me to write this piece: “Are we so afraid of these people that we need to treat them like animals?”

***

The GOP claims to be the advocate of families, Christian values and conservatism. America needs it to be those things. Just as U.S. politics is the poorer for the Democrats abandoning pro-life citizens, so U.S. politics will be poorer for the Republicans abandoning conservative and Christian citizens who want to see the moral fiber of the universe reflected in the law.

Yes, the Democrats are hardly faultless in the rise of Trump and the decades-long failure to develop adequate immigration policy. But when the GOP fails to live up to its own values, it cannot claim to be a credible alternative. The GOP might be able to cultivate the illusion of moral leadership, but that illusion will not last forever. That brings us to one final irony: this tragedy has unfolded as credible allegations against Cardinal McCarrick have emerged. If the GOP learns nothing else from the Catholic Church’s own failures of moral leadership, it should remember that credibility once lost is not easily regained.  

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Friends After College: It’s A Thing

Miranda lived on the third floor. Amy, her room was below mine. Kili and Heidi lived next to Amy. Collin and I shared a wall, while Sean lived three doors down. And then Debbie, Kate, Elizabeth, Megan, and… We all lived in Berchman’s Hall on the campus of Saint Mary College in Leavenworth, Kansas.

The total population of my friends came from all over campus. I was a theatre major, as was my central social circle; theatre junkies singing showtunes and analyzing plays. Others I met as manager for the women’s soccer team. Still others came from being hyper-involved with clubs and organizations. Then there were impromptu parties or randomly meandering into a room, joining people dying their hair, watching Meet Joe Black.

Then, on May 12, 2001, we graduated. Neo-adults entering the real world with caps on our heads, gowns on our backs, and degrees in hand. Bright eyed. Bushy tailed. Hopeful.

***

Saint Mary College was a tiny school. Only 178 of us lived on campus. Practically everyone knew everyone. A social life easily accessed through classes, clubs, and parties. And now I’m a twenty-something, not backpacking through Europe or waiting to begin a volunteer year with the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps or some other corps. I have to work. And I work 40 hours a week with people who have their own lives and built-in friends, not eager to add to their circle. Simply put, I don’t know how to ask someone to be my friend. I never had to ask until now.

Okay, Damian, just go up and be cool. Calm. Casual. No biggie. “What’cha guys do’n this weekend?” I sound completely fake. “Anything going down in town?” Damn it. I’m trying too hard. Think they’ll notice? Yes. Ugh!

I’m a cashier in the Bursar’s Office at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. This is my first job after college, and I work with three other cashiers.

“Me and my buddies are headed to…”

“Yeah, I got plans to…”

“It’s guys night out and we’re…”

“No worries, man, next time.” Man? I said, man?! That’s not how I talk. “Whatever’s clever.” Damian, stop! Just stop and walk away.

Maybe I’m not cool enough. But, what does that even mean? Or, maybe I’m actually ridiculous. I know I’m not that smart, or that kind of smart, they talk about books a lot, and I like the idea of reading, I just don’t read what they read. So maybe… I wonder how these people actually view me? I should’ve worn a different shirt. If only I liked sports. And, I’m fat, that could be why they don’t… Or, because I’m brown, that definitely could be… No. Damian, that’s dumb, don’t go there. I’m just not their ‘type’ of friend. I wouldn’t mix well with their friends. But, why wouldn’t I mix well? I’m a good mixer. I want to be back in college. I think I peaked in life too soon.

I sit and stare out my bank-teller-like-window as I see college students walking together with their college friends. Wait until you graduate. There’s an awakening you’ll get out here, the real world. God, I’m bitter. I am bitterly adulting.

***

Making friends is like dating. Shopping for the right person to fill parts of your life. This guy over here, great drinking buddy. That lady over there, the complete coffee companion. And that person, total travel partner. And of course, this person, my confidant. But, after college I wanted everyone to be everything. I wasn’t discriminating about who filled my life. I wanted my life to be one big dorm, recreating my college experience.   

What I wanted was quantity. The more friends I had the more my life was worth. Or so it seemed. The grass is always greener, and the people with copious amounts of friends had the greenest grass. And I wanted their grass. I found myself more willing to regress than grow. Occupying myself with late nights, hungover mornings with late arrivals to work. All for the benefit of appearances.

My truth: I was afraid of being out here on my own. Being an adult meant arriving – everyday – at an apartment building filled with strangers who want nothing to do with you. Living in closer proximity to loneliness in a one-bedroom studio rather than a dorm near people you love.

***

I loved my time at Saint Mary College, and there was a time I wanted nothing more than to rewind life and go back. Not anymore. I love where I’m at right now and the people who fill the spaces of my heart. It took me awhile to get here though.

My favorite playwright, Tony Kushner, says it best: “In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.” I got lost in that longing and dreaming Kushner wrote about. In college I was confident, I knew who I was, I had a sense of where I was going. Then suddenly, like a camera flash, college was a memory and I’m out here on my own. I was a stranger to everyone, even to myself. And in all that grasping for the past to remain present, I hadn’t considered the wonderful possibilities of life after college. I needed to let go and meet myself in life’s new chapter.

I’m cognizant that I no longer need friends the way I did when I was in college. My desire for quality friendships outweighs quantity. I want friendships that have depth and meaning, and that takes time – an investment I am more interested in engaging than I did when I was 22.

It’s been 17 years this past May since I graduated college. In that time, I’ve maintained solid relationships with a good handful of college friends. But, they reside in other cities living their own lives. And I require, as I’m sure we all do, access to friendships nearer to my daily ins-and-outs. A joy of being out of college is having the freedom to choose – with absolute intention – the people I want to occupy my time. And, being able to claim those friendships, when they happen, is beautiful.

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Rebirth and Rekindling: Sister Rejane Cytacki on Eco-Justice and Religious Life

As a part of TJP’s effort to highlight the voices of women in the Church, we recently spoke with Sister Rejane Cytacki. Sr. Rejane is a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, KS and the Executive Director of the Eco-Justice Center in Racine, WI. She spoke to us about eco-justice, her vocation, and the future of religious life.

 

Could you tell us a bit about your community?  

I am a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth and have been a part of that community for

13 years. I professed my perpetual vows in 2013. We are about 200 women. We were founded by Mother Xavier Ross in 1858, and we trace our roots to St. Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac.

 

And you’re currently working at an Eco-Justice Center. What does this ministry include?

The Center is a sponsored ministry of the Racine Dominicans and we are modeled off of the White Violet Eco-Justice Center. Our mission is environmental education centered around the values of community, contemplation, creativity, and cultivation. We have 15 acres and are a small working farm with 8 types of animals and lots of garden space for vegetables and flowers. We have renewable energy: solar, wind, and geothermal and are 50 percent off the grid. We offer a variety of field trips, summer camps, and a high school Farm Corps program to teach students how to grow, plant, harvest, cook, and sell at market fresh produce.

We are two miles south of a coal plant, and there have been issues in the neighborhood with coal dust and health problems. So we have also been active with Clean Power Coalition in Southeast Wisconsin, pushing for renewable energy.

 

How has your passion for the earth and eco-justice been connected with your vocation as a Catholic Sister?

After college, I did a year of volunteer work with the Passionist priests and brothers. I also spent time with the Passionist nuns in Clark Summit, PA. I was 22 and spent a summer working in their organic garden with Sr. Gail Worcelo. I fell in love with that context of introducing people to the earth and creation. I found that you can have spiritual and contemplative connections toward it. Sister Gail is also one of the founding sisters for the Sisters of Earth, a group, mainly of Catholic sisters, who do eco-justice work and founded the Green Mountain Monastery.

At the time, I wasn’t actively looking at religious life. But when I was there, I asked myself if I could be a sister. It was clear that monastic life was not for me, I was too young, and I hadn’t dated enough. So, I moved back home to volunteer with a Catholic Worker for two years.

The Sisters of Charity had a strong presence at the Catholic Worker. I joined an intentional living community with other lay women the sisters to share prayer and community. I was attracted by their vitality, joy and work with the poor. After a few years, I said yes to becoming a sister. After I entered, I continued to teach but also did a lot of work with school gardens. My community eventually asked me to do a Master’s degree in Earth Literacy.

 

What is the role of contemplation in eco-justice work?

We have a hermitage on our property. It is a very simple one room cabin. And we have a wooded part of property that includes a labyrinth. We use the labyrinth a lot for programming, for field trips and for summer camps. When Catholic groups come, we talk about forms of prayer. For non-religious groups, we talk about contemplation. We try to help people reflect on their life.  We give a space for students to be quiet and listen. A seventh grader once told me after she went through the labyrinth, “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard myself think.”

Contemplation is one of our core values and it cuts across any faith tradition. It is necessary in our world.  We have all this technology to keep us connected and yet people of all ages are feeling more disconnected than ever. We can just look at the suicide rates to see that as evidence. Technology is not meeting our inner needs or even our social needs. We need to take time for quiet, to hear ourselves think. We need time to reflect on where we are going and where we have been. All of this will help us gain insight, self-knowledge, and help us understand other people better and where they are coming from.

 

What are some of the unique gifts that Catholic sisters bring to the Church and to the world?

Contemplative dialogue- listening to both sides. Holding on to the paradox of hope as we live through Good Friday (the diminishment of the Religious sisters) into Easter Sunday (the rebirth and rekindling of religious life of the future).

 

What does the “rebirth and rekindling of religious life of the future” mean?

Sr. Julia Walsh, FSPA recently wrote, “I don’t remember where I heard it or where I read it, but it’s been rattling around in my mind a lot lately that the healthiest and holiest people are the folks that are conscious of the power of paradox. These good ones can love those they disagree with and want goodness for those who have harmed them. They are the saints who can hold two contradictory truths together, who aren’t threatened by inconsistencies.”

I think that holding two contradictory truths together is the paradox of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Death and life, diminishment and rebirth. Membership in religious communities and the Church in general is passing away. We hold their stories, we hold their histories, we hold their faith. We are grounded in that and it has formed us. The diminsment is painful and we grieve. But when we stay with Jesus as the model, we know there is Resurrection. New life comes from death. We see that in nature and in our Gospels. You have to stay with it and you can’t run away. Something beautiful will be reborn for religious life and for the Church. We just don’t know what it is. It is a paradox, but life is full of them.

 

You’re a part of Giving Voice. Can you tell us bit about that group and its function? 1

Giving Voice began almost 20 years ago. Younger women religious decided to come together because they were entering communities by themselves or with very small groups and wanted some peer support. In the beginning, we got together for a retreat once a year and started an annual national gathering. We established some deep relationships. As a group, we are growing up together in religious life. Some sisters recently published a book together entitled In Our Own Words.

This organization has given me so much in the way of walking in the unknown together. I’ve formed relationships with a diverse group of sisters from so many congregations all over the world. It has given me great hope for the future of religious life.

 

What wisdom or encouragement would you give to women discerning religious life?

For women discerning religious life, prayer is where you have to start. You have to develop a relationship with God. Then, look around for communities nearby where you can visit and step out of your comfort zone. Look for communities that have joy and life in their membership and have faith and hope in the future. Look into their charisms and see what resonates with you. Pay attention to how you feel when interacting with sisters and communities. It is about being accepted for who you are, for your gifts and talents.  Then it will feel like a home.

Don’t think you need to do all this homework, start with prayer. The Holy Spirit will help you find where you should be. It will also be helpful to find a Spiritual Director. You can also reach out to Giving Voice.

 

Finally, what are some tips for those trying to live with greater intention in their care for creation?

Start small. It has to go beyond recycling. Start with using cloth bags, bringing your own Tupperware to restaurants for your leftovers, refusing plastic straws at restaurants. Bring your own silverware, plates, and water bottles to potlucks to keep plastic ware, paper plates and plastic bottles out of landfills. Then start reading articles online or find a book list to help get you thinking about our relationship to rest of earth. A great book right now is “The Hidden Life of Trees.”

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The Wonder of the World Cup

I distinctly remember the day in 2001 when I fell in love with the game of soccer. It was the annual Fall Festival at my parish. It’s a popular event in the small town I grew up in as many other folks from different denominations would come support our parish and enjoy the good food, raffle prizes and games. I was 10 years old and was kicking a soccer ball around in the church’s courtyard outside with the other kids my age. Our parish priest, Fr. Hoa, came over and joined us. When he got the ball at his feet, he proceeded to perform an incredible skill I had never seen before known as the “rainbow.”. He rolled the ball up the back of his calf and with a slight hop and kick of the leg it went soaring over his head as he ran after it. I was hooked. Fr. Hoa lead me to fall in love with the “beautiful game” even as this same priest helped me to fall in love with Jesus.

Because of Fr. Hoa’s inspiration, the last 18 years of my life have been immersed in the game of soccer. Understandably, there is no sporting event I look forward to more than the one that begins today.

The World Cup kicks off today as this year’s host team, Russia, lines up against Saudi Arabia. The tournament is a month-long celebration of the beautiful game, and the whole world is joining in on the fun. Much like the Fall Festival at my little parish drew in Christians from all denominations in celebration of our shared community, the World Cup brings people of all cultures and creeds into the same space of hopeful expectation. All over the world, people will gather in stadiums, city squares, bars and homes to watch their teams play. Prayers will be offered as players and fans hug one another, some in the jubilation of victory and others in the desolation of defeat.

The World Cup, an international tournament first hosted by Uruguay in 1930, is full of history and emotion, but also faith.

Pope Francis’ monthly intention during the 2016 Summer Olympics was that “sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounters between peoples and may contribute to peace in the world.” Since soccer is the world’s most popular sport, the World Cup is a unique opportunity to experience the passion of various cultures and peoples. The passion of these people is a tangible, buzzing energy built up in the hearts of people as they place their hopes on their respective national teams. Their hope is to witness moments of wonder as the world’s best players compete for the coveted trophy. Just as I was drawn into the beauty of that soccer trick that Fr. Hoa performed, so too the world is drawn in to the magical and mesmerizing things players like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo can do. Not only the abilities of individual players, but entire teams become units that work together as one to perform beautiful feats of soccer glory. Large communities of people are formed around these players and teams in the hope of experiencing a delightful moment together.

This hope is similar to the very thing that unites people of faith. Christian communities are drawn together in celebration of the good and beautiful graces God has given and in that community is sustained a hopeful expectation of what is to come. The feelings and emotions we get when entering into the spirit of the World Cup can clue us into a desire for the transcendent that God has placed in all people. It is a desire to have a share in all that is good and beautiful. Events like the World Cup are occasions for all people to become members of communities that fill them with emotion and excitement. The beauty of these communities, countries, and player abilities and the awe that these things inspire can lead us to offer our gratitude to the Creator of beauty, goodness and truth.

Take the opportunity to partake of this global phenomenon that is sure to provide both crushing heartbreak and ecstatic joy. Allow yourself to catch World Cup fever as you celebrate those goals shouting at the top of your lungs with your buddies at home. Or go jump around with that stranger at the pub who’s joyfully chanting his team’s songs. Maybe you’ll witness something that will cause you to fall in love with the game like I did at that parish picnic all those years ago. Even if you aren’t converted to soccer fanaticism, I am sure that you will get to celebrate with a community of people spanning the entire globe. Just remember to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the One who makes all this possible.

***

Image courtesy FlickrCC user UNAMID.

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Service After College

“Lord, break my heart, so the whole world can fall in.”

These were the words the priest said during the opening mass at the initial orientation for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). I had graduated from Santa Clara University a month before, and I had just flown away from California that morning to embark on this new journey.

As I sat in that chapel with several dozen other wide-eyed incoming recent college grads, the only thing I knew was that I would soon be arriving in Bolivia to begin my two-year experience as a volunteer.

***

I lived for a year in Bolivia in Tiraque, a small village 10,000 feet high in the Andes. In my second year moved to Tacna, Peru, a city on the southern coast in the Atacama desert, the driest place on earth. In both places, I worked as a teacher, counselor and youth minister. I went on countless hikes, learned traditional dances, tried some incredible foods, all the while sticking out like a sore thumb for being so tall.

 Long-term volunteer work brings the opportunity to form community in unexpected places and with unexpected people. I remember a neighbor in Peru, Martin, who would drop by our house regularly and spend at least an hour just chatting and catching up. No need to cook a meal, or do anything special. Just listening to each other, being a consistent friend. Then there was Margarita, a neighbor who showered us with love in the form of various delicious foods she would occasionally bring over to our house. These friends, and countless others, taught me that simplicity and humility is the key to true friendship.

I had the opportunity to be a padrino de graduacion, or graduation sponsor, for a young man named Ronald about my age. I went to visit him and his family in a small jungle town down the mountainside from Tiraque. I recall him explaining to me the various risks in the area from drug traffickers, some of whom were hostile to people from the U.S. He told me, with utter sincerity, “But I’ll protect you. I’ll give my life for you if need be.” Ronald and others embodied a generous open-heartedness what was a special example to me of what it means to be human.

My years as a volunteer were a time of tremendous joy, deeply meaningful friendships, and experiences that I couldn’t have dreamt up if I tried. All the while, I was challenged to come to terms with my own ego, expectations, and shortcomings as I confronted challenges in work and community life. It was sometimes painful to realize this, but my JVC community and the locals reminded me, as God does so often in a myriad of ways, that we don’t have to be perfect to be lovable, we just have to be willing to have our hearts open and be who we are.

The willingness to forgive, patience, and openness to friendship I witnessed in so many people challenged so much of what I had learned previously. I had learned that to be “successful” I had to have an advanced degree, possess a unique set of knowledge, and gain the attention of others through my accomplishments. I had learned that this is where greatness would be found.

The greatness I witnessed from the people I met challenged me to unlearn so much of this way of seeing the world. I read a lot from the late Jesuit Anthony De Mello during my time there, who wrote, “That’s what learning is all about where spirituality is concerned: unlearning, unlearning almost everything you’ve been taught. A willingness to unlearn, to listen.”

Human greatness. Nothing that would be able to be written on a resume, and nothing that would get one hired at a top company. But simple, genuine human greatness.

***

My hope for all people who may be considering long-term volunteer work after college is that you not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, and to go where you risk failure and being a foreigner, where you may witness incredible poverty, and where so much of what you have learned previously is challenged. To echo the words of the opening prayer at my orientation, I hope that you do not hesitate to have your heart broken. If your experience is anything like mine, you may come to know, through God’s guidance, a deeper sense of what it means to be human.

Through my years of JVC, and the process of having my heart broken, listening to the world around me, and forming genuine relationships, I experienced a personal encounter with the God who out of love gave His life for humanity. And I feel that my entire life since then has been an attempt to respond to that encounter. Maybe that’s what is meant by the JVC slogan, “ruined for life.”

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5 Binge-Worthy TV Series for the Summer

Call the Midwife:  The seven-season (and counting) British series tells the story of several midwives and is based on the journals of Nurse Jenny Lee (real life Jennifer Worth) who joins them to begin her career. Like most shows on this list, the main character doesn’t know what she’s getting into, as suggested by the opening line of the theme song: “Why did I even start this?” The midwives, a mix of Anglican nuns and laywomen, live together in East London during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and share a mission to deliver the babies of their working-class district, Poplar. The show is unique in that it is female-centric, and therefore provides a refreshingly different take on religious life. The show engages a wide range of themes, such as the dramatically changing times of post-war Britain, birth control, modernization, vocational discernment, discovering sexuality, and living in community. After seven seasons, it can sometimes get a bit formulaic, but each episode still grabs you in. Available on Netflix.

 

Broken: While only one season of six episodes, Broken features a masterful performace of Sean Bean as Father Michael Kerrigan, a parish priest in an unnamed, post-industrial town in northern England. The extremely intense drama is an emotional roller-coaster and is not for the faint of heart. As Father Kerrigan continues to suffer from the after-effects of his own childhood abuse – which reach their height for him at the moment of consecration in every Mass he celebrates – he tries to do right by his community and parishioners. While most around him regard him as a great priest, Kerrigan struggles with a lack of self-confidence that often results in needless tragedy. This is a real look into the life of a parish and its pastor in the same vein as 2014’s Calvary, but offers (usually) a dose of redemption when the viewer needs it most. A balanced view of the good, bad, and ugly of the life of a priest and wonderfully acted. Available on BritBox.  

 

The Churchmen (“Ainsi Soient-Ils”): The three season series follows five very different young men after they enter the prestigious “Capuchin” diocesan seminary in Paris. These include: Yann, the eager and young scoutmaster from the country; José, recently released from prison for a violent crime; the quiet but seasoned Guillaume; Emmanuel, who is hiding an unbearable secret; and Raphael, the wealthy young man who seems to fail at everything but making money. The Churchmen explores all the themes you can think of in religious life, or were too afraid to ask about: falling in love, Vatican politics, the fear of “secularism” and the siege mentality it creates. The show is brilliant in that it avoids the extremes of painting the church, or religious life in general, as either untouchably pious or hopelessly corrupt. Rather, it fleshes out the human experience at the core of religious life in all its nuance and complexity: in particular, how these young men come to terms with their own pasts and desires, even when they would rather not. Full of surprises and beautifully shot, this is a no-holds barred drama that inserts the viewer into the seminary as it explores these men’s spiritual and emotional journey towards the priesthood. Available on Netflix.

 

Father Brown: The latest iteration of G.K. Chesterton’s beloved detective Father Brown is now in its sixth season. Somewhat similar to his character in the books, the “easily forgotten” Father Brown gains a reputation for solving tough crimes as he corrects the mistakes of the frustrated police, who usually arrest the wrong suspect. Though not the most street-smart character, Father Brown is gifted with a brilliant mind that allows him to see each case in ways that everyone around him misses. Father Brown travels with an entourage of Catholic friend-employees who help him solve the crimes, along the way giving nods to the history of Catholicism in the UK as well as adding to the comic relief. Amusingly, the TV show is set in the 1950s, although the stories were written between 1910 and 1936. Following around this very unique kind of priest makes for most entertaining viewing. Available on Netflix.

 

Rev.: Only three seasons (though more may be in the works), this light-hearted show centers around an Anglican parish priest and his fraught move to London from his country parish. The priest, Reverend Tom Hollander, tries his best to adapt to life in the big city, but is often confused and easily overwhelmed. Everyone around him, on the other hand, seems to have their lives neatly together. In the end, Hollander has to learn that he doesn’t have to try so hard: he’s best when he’s simply himself. Supporting characters (a lawyer wife, the parish school headmistress, local Archdeacon, and parishioners) keep the show fun with their understated British shade and low-key Catholic jokes. (One running joke is that Hollander’s assistant will run off and “go Catholic” like the previous pastor.) Look out for the cameo of Liam Neeson as God in the third season. Available on BritBox.  

…and remember to binge responsibly.

***

Image courtesy FlickrCC user mxmstryo.

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From Podcasts to Prayer: An Interview with Olga Segura

TJP recently had the opportunity to talk with Olga Segura, an associate editor at America Media. Born in the Dominican Republic, Olga grew up in the Bronx and attended Fordham University. She is one of the co-hosts of the popular “Jesuitical” podcast, a weekly podcast hosted by three young, lay editors at America Media.

Tell us how the “Jesuitical” podcast came to be?

The idea for the podcast happened over lunch one day. Ashley and Zac, my co-workers at America Media, decided that there was a niche missing in the podcast world, i.e., there were no podcasts for young Catholics. Ashley loves The Tablet’s “Unorthodox,” which offers a take on Jewish news and culture—so we decided to do the same, but for Catholic news and culture.

 

In February, the “Jesuitical” podcast passed the one-year mark. What do you think has helped make it into such a success?

One of the things that has helped to make it successful is that all three of us co-hosts believe in the mission. We are trying to build a community, a space for fellow young Catholics to learn more about their own faith and to engage with other like-minded individuals.

A second factor that has allowed us to be successful is that the three of us come from three totally different backgrounds. We don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything we discuss, but we’re willing to listen and to learn from the other’s perspectives—and I think that resonates with our listeners.

 

You have had the chance to interview a lot of people since the podcast began. Who has been your favorite interview?

I think my favorite interview is our latest one with Cyrus Habib, the lieutenant governor of Washington State. He’s not only brilliant and extremely accomplished, but he also gave me hope for the state of U.S. politics.

 

Social media has been under a lot of scrutiny lately, including Mark Zuckerberg’s recent testimony before Congress. What’s your view of social media? How can it be a tool of evangelization? What are the risks?

I absolutely love social media! It has helped me to grow as a Christian and as a feminist. There are so many brilliant women of color that I have gotten introduced to via Twitter, such as Zoé Samudzi, Zahira Kelly-Cabrera and Juleyka Lantigua-Williams. These women—and so many others—have allowed me to challenge prejudices I grew up with and grow as a thinker and writer. I think social media, especially Twitter, can be such a powerful tool for evangelization because you can reach people anywhere in the world and engage in meaningful dialogue.

I think one of the challenges that can be found on a platform like Twitter, however, is that it often becomes more about building a brand for yourself rather than about getting across whatever message you believe in.

 

Many faithful Catholics lament the growing secularization that they see in Western culture and the lack of religious practice among youth. As a young adult working in Catholic media, what’s your take?

While the worry is valid—numbers are showing a growth of secularization—I think that, unlike previous generations, I am able to live out my faith in ways that do not necessarily look like those of previous generations, e.g., social media, Google Hangouts, podcasting! These platforms, especially being on the podcast, allow me to see how my co-hosts and our young listeners live out their faith, so I’m constantly immersed.

 

Your podcast has given voice to many people, from Black Catholics and Catholic feminists to Muslim and Jewish Americans. What voices do you feel are not being heard in the Church today? And how do you think the Church can do better to hear those voices?  

I think the Church, more than most institutions, is doing a better job of giving voices to marginalized communities. For example, the Catholic Church has done so much for undocumented Americans, from statements from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.C.C.B.) to churches acting as sanctuaries to the handing out of church IDs in Texas. We’ve also seen how impactful voices like those of Father James Martin, S.J., have been for L.G.B.T. Catholics.

That being said, however, the Church can and should always do more for Catholics of color. Things like Charlottesville last year, the rhetoric of many in government, the demonization of black men and women, mass incarceration and the various instances of police officers getting called on black Americans prove that America has never been the post-racial world that many Christians want to believe in. And, in many ways, the Church has already started to reconcile with its own complicity in America’s racist history, from Georgetown acknowledging its own problematic history to the formation of the U.S.C.C.B’s Ad-Hoc Committee Against Racism. I want to see even more of this.

 

Earlier this year, America Magazine released the most comprehensive survey of U.S. Catholic women. What has your experience been as a woman in the Catholic Church? And as a woman working in Catholic media?

Growing up, I always had examples of women in the church in my life—from my mother to girl altar servers at my parish growing up to the nuns at my high school. Catholicism was always something that included women. When I started working at America, however, I realized that this wasn’t everyone’s experience.

Initially, I wasn’t comfortable being vocal and letting my ideas be heard. I was constantly worried about being a woman, especially one of color, and saying the wrong thing. However, over time, I’ve learned to leave those fears behind, especially thanks to the wonderful support and leadership of women like Kerry Weber, the executive editor at America who spearheaded the survey.

 

What was your familiarity with Jesuits and Ignatian spirituality before joining America Media? What have been your greatest personal takeaways from Ignatian spirituality?

Aside from attending a Jesuit university, I did not know much about the Jesuits or Ignatian spirituality. Learning more about Ignatian spirituality has been one of the greatest things about “Jesuitical.” I love how it has challenged me—the Daily Examen is not as easy as I originally thought!—and helped me to grow as a Catholic.

 

Besides deeping your knowledge of Ignatian spirituality, how has working at America Media and with the “Jesuitical” podcast impacted the practice of your own faith life? How has it impacted your views of the Church today?

Working at America Media and “Jesuitical” has definitely strengthened my faith life. In college, I grew away from the faith. I no longer had nuns or teachers or parents telling me I had to go to weekly Mass. But being at America, and especially working on “Jesuitical,” has allowed me to take ownership of my faith and to be more intentional about prayer, worship, going to weekly services and reading the Bible.

Working at America has also made me aware of all the great work that local parishes do around the world. Prior to being at America, I had a very secular and negative understanding of the Church, i.e., it was anti-women, anti-people of color, anti-L.G.B.T. Catholics, etc. In six years, I have gotten to meet so many amazing Catholics that are spreading the Gospel and truly attempting to represent marginalized communities. I’ve realized that the Church isn’t just popes, bishops, cardinals, church hierarchy—it’s also the single mothers, sexual abuse survivors, Black Lives Matter activists.

 

The podcast requires a certain level of vulnerability as the three of you co-hosts share “consolations and desolations” of the week, moments where you find God at work and in your lives, and moments when it was harder. How has this experience of being vulnerable in a public way been for you?

Sometimes, it’s the easiest part of the show! I’m an extrovert and I tend to overshare, so being vulnerable, being emotional, has never been a challenge for me. Other times, especially when I am describing something specific to my experience as a woman of color, it feels like the hardest conversation I can have.

 

Thanks for sharing, Olga. Both with us, and on your weekly podcast. We’ll let you out of here with one final question. (You had to expect this to be coming.) If you could canonize someone, living or dead, Catholic or not, who would it be? And why?

Ha! I love when we get this question! The first time I was asked, during one of our live shows, I chose James Baldwin. Now, I’m going to choose Francisca and Julio Segura, also known as my parents. They left the Dominican Republic in the early 1990s and arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. They spoke no English and had only $90. They have struggled and been through various traumas and endured through it all. They gave my sister and me the courage and faith to believe in ourselves. And for that, I nominate them.

***

Image courtesy of Angelo Jesus Canta.

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Hail Mary

The first time I met with my spiritual director after entering the Jesuits, he asked me how I pray. One of the things I mentioned was regularly rattling through Hail Marys. I told him that I tend to pray them throughout the day – on the bus, on walks, during dinner – whenever. I also tend to pray them during set times of prayer, and sometimes with the Rosary.

I remember being embarrassed by that response. I felt like I should have been engaged in “deeper” forms of prayer – meditation, contemplation, or imaginative prayer with scripture. But I had little experience with those. I felt that my prayer was in some way inadequate.  

I prayed Hail Marys because I didn’t know how else to pray. I’d had other experiences of prayer, but when it came down to it, rattling through some memorized words was the easiest way for me to pray when I knew I needed to or when I felt a desire. The Hail Mary and the Rosary were like training wheels, and I thought eventually they’d come off.

They haven’t yet.

***

I still say Hail Marys all the time. Most often, I say them in times of stress or anxiety. When I am walking into a room full of people, walking into a classroom the first day of a the semester, or waiting to get feedback on a paper I worked hard to finish. I pray them when I finish conversations with people on the street, every morning when I look at the cover of the New York Times, or whenever I hear news of someone’s death.

It’s not uncommon for me to recognize myself going through Hail Marys and wondering, “How long have I been doing this for?” My Hail Marys can be subconscious. Praying them seems to be my first reaction to most things. My Hail Marys and my Rosaries are frequently unexciting, unmoving, imageless, and emotionless.

Yet, there is a simple gratification in the touch of Rosary beads and the sound of ancient prayers. They don’t bring me into an immediate conscious connection with God or His Blessed Mother. They often fail to satisfy a never-ending desire to hear God speak or to feel His touch. Sometimes, it is hard to even sense His presence in the moment of my rote praying. Nonetheless, I find that it continues to be a most valuable use of time and a sincere act of devotion. The Rosary is helping me learn that the fruit of prayer is quite often experienced outside of itself. Sometimes in completely unrecognizable ways.

***

I met Dorothy Day’s granddaughter once. She left the Catholic Church when she was younger and eventually came back. When I asked her why, she told me that some old priest told her to pray the Rosary every day. She took his advice, and there you have it.

St. Therese of Lisieux said that the Rosary is a long chain that links heaven and earth. That feels true for me. Hail Marys and the Rosary are indeed like training wheels, but ones that I will need forever. They train my mind, my body, my eyes, and my heart to live as though I am linked to heaven. Linked by things that may seem meaningless – touching beads and uttering words – but that do have a supernatural effect on my life.

It is often the moments outside of my Hail Marys when I can most feel their impact. I notice a deeper calm, less anxiety, and greater peace. I can more easily see God at work because my Hail Marys so frequently remind me of His existence.

And so, I continue rattle to Mary my needs, wants, and fears. In turn, she helps me remember the long vision, the deeper desire, and the Fruit of her womb. Through my rattling to Mary, I’m reminded that there is much more to life than the present.

-//-

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This is America

The happenstance collision of Donald Glover’s music video and the new NFL rules about protesting the National Anthem reminded me of my America, the one I have experienced. Those who challenge the popularly-accepted narrative of America are pushed to the side, relegated, and punished. Whereas Glover’s art challenges our standard narratives, the NFL protest rules support entertainment and oppression.

I empathize with Colin Kaepernick’s protests. During the 7th grade, I began sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance. The US had just invaded Iraq, and I felt that I could not honestly pledge allegiance to a flag, nor to a country that killed civilians and tortured detainees. My classmates responded with insults, warning me I should leave America or get shot for “being a terrorist.”

This is America: we frequently choose a patriotism and narrative built on violence and oppression, instead of one built on human dignity and life. Kaepernick chose to kneel for his beliefs and to recognize an inconvenient story. The NFL punished him in response.

The incredible symbolism of Glover’s video points to the entertainment value of Black bodies, but also the simultaneous social, cultural, and economic dismissal of Black people. Take for example Glover’s pose when he shoots a musician. He stands like minstrel in black face, a classic and cruel caricature arising from Jim Crow. He underlines how we caricature the Black community, or use phrases like, “But what about black-on-black violence?” to stereotype and avoid more complex and difficult discussions.

We happily bought Kaepernick jerseys when he was winning games and comfortably fit the stereotype of a Black man, but torched his jersey when he challenged white supremacy.

Black folk should entertain white folks like me; their political views shouldn’t interrupt my comfort.

The NFL built its recent rules off of this sentiment. Sure players can protest, but they have to do so in the locker room so as not to be seen or disrupt status quo. This is the same sentiment I regularly hear about Black Lives Matter – they can protest, but they can’t interrupt other people’s lives. That’s just wrong.

It’s as if we don’t notice that poverty, structural racism, and police brutality regularly interrupt the lives of millions of people. These ills prevent communities and individuals from living healthy, happy lives. According to the American Psychiatric Association, racism causes heightened stress, PTSD, and depression. Similarly, poverty is associated with learning disabilities, depression, ADHD, malnutrition, drops in maternal health, lack of access to care.

These are incredible and violent disruptions to life. So shouldn’t we be willing to disrupt comfortable norms to address them?

Glover’s video has reminded me why I just can’t watch the NFL anymore. I’ve tried to give up football before. But it’s such an ingrained part of the America that I grew up with, I struggled not to follow through. Not anymore.

Donald Glover has challenged me. His recent music video, deep symbolism, and sharp socio-political critiques have pushed me to recognize the use of Black entertainment as a mask for violence against communities of color.

As a white man, I can easily absorb and enjoy the music, sports, and entertainment that Black bodies provide, while just as easily ignoring the fuller lives of those same Black people. I could say that concussions are just an occupational hazard, while ignoring the fact that they have racialized consequences. I can expect Black athletes to perform superhuman feats, while ignoring the rest of their lives and experiences.

This is America: where we build narratives about patriotism, caricatures, and entertainment; but punish those who question their validity. So I say bye to the NFL, to standing for the Anthem or Pledge, and to supporting the violence born by our patriotism.

***

Image courtesy FlickrCC user The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

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This is America

The happenstance collision of Donald Glover’s music video and the new NFL rules about protesting the National Anthem reminded me of my America, the one I have experienced. Those who challenge the popularly-accepted narrative of America are pushed to the side, relegated, and punished. Whereas Glover’s art challenges our standard narratives, the NFL protest rules support entertainment and oppression.

I empathize with Colin Kaepernick’s protests. During the 7th grade, I began sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance. The US had just invaded Iraq, and I felt that I could not honestly pledge allegiance to a flag, nor to a country that killed civilians and tortured detainees. My classmates responded with insults, warning me I should leave America or get shot for “being a terrorist.”

This is America: we frequently choose a patriotism and narrative built on violence and oppression, instead of one built on human dignity and life. Kaepernick chose to kneel for his beliefs and to recognize an inconvenient story. The NFL punished him in response.

The incredible symbolism of Glover’s video points to the entertainment value of Black bodies, but also the simultaneous social, cultural, and economic dismissal of Black people. Take for example Glover’s pose when he shoots a musician. He stands like minstrel in black face, a classic and cruel caricature arising from Jim Crow. He underlines how we caricature the Black community, or use phrases like, “But what about black-on-black violence?” to stereotype and avoid more complex and difficult discussions.

We happily bought Kaepernick jerseys when he was winning games and comfortably fit the stereotype of a Black man, but torched his jersey when he challenged white supremacy.

Black folk should entertain white folks like me; their political views shouldn’t interrupt my comfort.

The NFL built its recent rules off of this sentiment. Sure players can protest, but they have to do so in the locker room so as not to be seen or disrupt status quo. This is the same sentiment I regularly hear about Black Lives Matter – they can protest, but they can’t interrupt other people’s lives. That’s just wrong.

It’s as if we don’t notice that poverty, structural racism, and police brutality regularly interrupt the lives of millions of people. These ills prevent communities and individuals from living healthy, happy lives. According to the American Psychiatric Association, racism causes heightened stress, PTSD, and depression. Similarly, poverty is associated with learning disabilities, depression, ADHD, malnutrition, drops in maternal health, lack of access to care.

These are incredible and violent disruptions to life. So shouldn’t we be willing to disrupt comfortable norms to address them?

Glover’s video has reminded me why I just can’t watch the NFL anymore. I’ve tried to give up football before. But it’s such an ingrained part of the America that I grew up with, I struggled not to follow through. Not anymore.

Donald Glover has challenged me. His recent music video, deep symbolism, and sharp socio-political critiques have pushed me to recognize the use of Black entertainment as a mask for violence against communities of color.

As a white man, I can easily absorb and enjoy the music, sports, and entertainment that Black bodies provide, while just as easily ignoring the fuller lives of those same Black people. I could say that concussions are just an occupational hazard, while ignoring the fact that they have racialized consequences. I can expect Black athletes to perform superhuman feats, while ignoring the rest of their lives and experiences.

This is America: where we build narratives about patriotism, caricatures, and entertainment; but punish those who question their validity. So I say bye to the NFL, to standing for the Anthem or Pledge, and to supporting the violence born by our patriotism.

***

Image courtesy FlickrCC user The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

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Our News Blind Spots

Did you hear the news?

In late April, some supporters of the president clashed with students right outside a Jesuit university. Rocks and bottles were thrown, causing damage to the entrance gate onto campus. In the tension that followed, a 15-year old student from a local Jesuit high school was shot in the throat and died.

Did you hear that story?

Don’t be too surprised if you didn’t. The Jesuit university in question is not located in the United States. It is the Central American University (U.C.A.) of Managua, Nicaragua. And the young student who was killed, Álvaro Conrado, attended the Loyola Institute in the same city. He is just one of the many peaceful protesters who have been killed in Nicaragua in the past month in country-wide protests. Have you heard about what is going on there?

 

News Media Blind Spots

The story above is merely one story of thousands that pop up on news websites and our FaceBook or Twitter feed on a daily basis. The school shooting at Santa Fe High School, clashes at the Gaza border, a volcano spewing lava in Hawaii, a royal wedding. Some stories dominate the headlines, go viral, and extend for days. Others vanish as quickly as our thumb can scroll across a smartphone screen.

Despite the overabundance of news, there are still stories that never even make it to our smartphone screens to begin with. Many traditional news media outlets have cut costs to stay afloat, which includes sacrificing staff and reporters. When big stories are calling for more coverage and attention, other stories get left behind because resources are limited.

With stories like the on-again, off-again meeting between North Korea and the U.S. and the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal, we are going to encounter less international coverage of civil unrest in Nicaragua or election-related violence in the Philippines. These stories likewise deserve coverage, but it can be hard to come by outside of their own local press. News media has its blind spots.

 

Our Blind Spots

The truth is: we live in a very big world. As touching as it is to have those “small world” experiences, it is nonetheless helpful to remind ourselves that this world is still a very big place, with a lot of things going on at the same time.

It is simply impossible and exhausting to even consider keeping up with all the news, all the time. We are limited by the busyness of our daily lives and the sheer quantity of news that is generated daily. In the midst of the overabundance of news out there and our own American exceptionalism, we often end up focusing on just the headlines or the news stories that most affect us. Or that most affect the U.S.

With the ongoing war in Syria and the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, it should not surprise us that not everyone is abreast of the currency crisis in Argentina, the murder of priests in neighboring Mexico, or the deadly cyclone and violent clashes breaking out in Somalia. We all have our blind spots.

 

Share the Good News

We need to be forgiving with ourselves about our inability to keep up with everything, and we need to be forgiving of others. We cannot expect ourselves nor anyone else to be completely informed on every news story. Rather than being overly critical or judgmental, or merely resorting to a superficial slacktivist approach, we should take advantage of opportunities to share important news with one another.

The news that matters most to us is usually news that matters most to those who we know and love, and vice versa. If you have a relative working or studying abroad, you are going to want to know more about their local situation. If you have a friend in the military or an international volunteer program, you are going to take more interest in places where they are sent. Maybe you are that friend or family member for others.

Otherwise there might be a particular theme (like Catholic news!) or a regional issue (AIDS in South Africa for me- and you?) of the world that you pay particular attention to, while other friends or family of yours might not be as tuned into it. Your passion alone might make your friends and family more interested.

Social media allows us to participate in the circulation of news stories. If there is a story that impacts you or that deserves more attention, share it with friends and family. Dig deeper, investigate and learn more, and then share that knowledge with others. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the deluge of news, we can start to feel empowered with our ability to participate.

Let’s start by recognizing our own news blind spots and realize that everyone has them. Then we can put away our judgments and start to share the stories that matter.

Did you hear the news? Let me tell you what I heard.

***

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An Ode to Families

I stir awake in the middle of the night to the sound of crying. I am sleeping in in the basement of my brother’s house, where my niece’s little stuffed animals and pink princess attire litter the floor.

I am exhausted from the late night of my brother and sister-in-law’s housewarming barbecue, so it takes me a bit to come to. Eventually, I pull myself out of bed and follow the crying.

As I approach, a little head suddenly pops up over a low dividing wall. It’s my three-year-old nephew. He jumps back in fright at first, but once he recognizes me, he takes up an even more heart-wrenching wail. I quickly shuffle to him and ask him what’s wrong.

“I wan my milkeee!” I hear through the sobs. Translation – he wants his chocolate milk sippy cup, a profound crisis for a three-year old who day and night clutches his chocolate milk close to his heart as if losing it would be the end of him.

I find his sippy cup and carry him upstairs. I rummage through the cupboards, find the Nesquik mix, clean out his bottle, and mix up some more. Then I put him back in his bed with his milk and blankee and he drifts to sleep. I return to the princess’s palace and lay down to try to get a bit more rest. Crisis averted, sleep… interrupted.

***

I never sleep well in an unfamiliar bed, so the next morning, Sunday, I wake up early. The two dogs instantly rush to me for their morning greeting. I brew a cup of coffee with the Keurig machine and wait for the others to get up: my brother, his wife, and their three kids who are five, three, and one.

Our plan is for the whole family to go to Mass, so I help pick up from last night’s party while simultaneously aiding in the team effort to hold, entertain, and watch the kids before we leave. My parents soon arrive, and we all pile in to two cars.

When we arrive at the church and walk through the doors, my brother and I admire the towering ceiling and beautiful stained glass. I point this out to my niece as we take up our strategic “kid-proof” positions in the pew. My parents guard the left flank, while my brother and sister create a barrier on the right along with the newborn’s car seat. I am in the middle, mostly taking care of my niece Olivia. We are ready.

Mass begins, and I hold my five-year-old niece as I point to the music I am singing from the hymnal. She is interested for about five seconds, and then goes to my mom for a fruit snack and some blank drawing paper. For the next fifteen minutes we quietly practice writing her first and last name.

At Mass, our family spectacle must look more like controlled chaos than worship. Books are dropped, pews turn in to arts and crafts tables, kids cry and laugh, and hot wheels race along imaginary streets. Sometimes I sit with the kids when I’m supposed to stand. And, sometimes, I pay closer attention to making sure kids don’t tumble to the floor than to hearing God’s sacred words.

At one point, unprovoked, Olivia utters in a hushed voice:

“The…the baby Jesus, he died, and then….and…and then he saved us.”

I lean toward her and whisper, “Yes. He grew up and died. But what happened after that?”

“He…he went up into the clouds.”

“That’s right, to heaven!” I quietly reply. “Who told you that?”

“My mommy did,” she says.

“Jesus is the best, isn’t he.” I say. “Do you like Jesus?”

“Yes, I like him,” she replies with no hesitation.

***

Until this visit to my brother’s house overnight, I don’t think I realized the commitment it takes for a family of five to go to church on a Sunday morning. My brother and sister-in-law are both going to college online. He works full-time. She’s with three kids at home all day; changing diapers, mixing Nesquik, making hot dogs and mac & cheese, getting her kids into art and gardening and games. They are busy, which makes going to church a big undertaking. Back in Chicago, all I have to do is wake up, head out the door, and walk three minutes to the chapel on campus.

It’s a great gift to be able to pray at Mass in silent attention. But, in the chaos of my brother’s young family, I see an equally beautiful form of worship.  Worship in the form of retrieving dropped toys and helping with arts and crafts in the pews. Of filling sippy cups and hearing a five-year-old child talk about Jesus.  In that worship, I see my brother and his wife answering the call, “let the children come to me.” In their daily dedication to their kids and family, there is goodness and a deep, hidden holiness in their everyday lives.

-//-

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Working Out After College

Staying fit after college can feel impossible. The freshman fifteen continues to accumulate and leaves the journey to peak fitness an insurmountable climb. You’re busy trying to get steady work and affordable housing. The last thing you want is another element of stress. And frankly, being healthy can be expensivegyms cost money, and chicken ain’t as cheap as ramen.

Smart eating, finding time for exercise, and being healthy are more difficult now that your body is no longer able to magically shed those I-stayed-in-bed-binge-watching-Harry-Potter-and-eating-guacamole calories. Exercise can be dull, lonely, and incredibly frustrating.

So what are you to do? What are the best solutions to staying healthy after college? What are the cheap solutions to staying healthy after college?

1. Don’t read, use, or even touch fitness magazines.

https://giphy.com/embed/3oGRFx6qD9Cbw0aLEA

They’re bad for you. Honestly. They come up with whacky fads, poorly-designed exercises, and baseless science to convince you to buy something. Just don’t.

2. Stop making New Year’s Resolutions. Start developing habits.
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Resolutions often prey on our insecurities and set us up for failure. Instead, make a list of habits that you can gradually change and track. For example: I will increase my water intake 4 ounces per day until I can make the recommended 11-15 cups per day. Or, I will reduce nightly ice cream scoop to three times per week. Perhaps, I will walk 50 more steps per day until I reach 5,000.

Habits can be hard to develop and easy to lose, but they lead to much greater long-term health benefits. They require us to regularly make choices about how we want to live. Habits help us to overcome excuses and the relegation of our health to a secondary category. You have to prioritize to succeed, otherwise the excuses easily pile up.

3. Love yourself.
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Compare and despair. Whenever I walk into a gym, I scope out my strongest competition. I look at mirrors and despise them. Despite my ability to easily squat over 500lbs, I still look at myself and say, “Shit, you’ve gotten fat.”

Shaming yourself and allowing others to shame you only makes working out harder. If you are naturally heavier but want to be strong as all get out, go for it! If you just can’t put on muscle but love running, got for it! Work out because you love yourself and want to be healthy, not because you’re afraid of the alternatives.

4. Find a safe place.

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Gyms can be incredibly unwelcoming. Frankly, gyms frequently reject women, LGBTQ, differently-abled, and inexperienced persons. Men try to relegate women to cardio equipment. Bros try to establish dominance. Novices struggle to find space to practice.  

Thankfully, there are awesome organizations like Women’s Strength Coalition working to build safe spaces and communities. Look for places and communities to train with that will be welcoming, generous, and allow you to be yourself during your workout.

**An incredibly important note for folks like me (ie. large, male, confident lifters, lots of privilege) – we must work to make fitness a more welcoming space. We often take space that doesn’t belong to us. I can go into most any gym and complete my workout in total comfort and ease. We must do a better job of recognizing how we make fitness uncomfortable for others. We must also recognize our own limitations, that we are not the gold standard of fitness.

5. Find fitness friends.
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Finding friends post-college can be hard enough, let alone those who will hold you accountable. Community centers have tons of adult rec-leagues that have spots for “free agents” and those new to the area. Or show up to November Project and just go running.

Signing up for a league or joining a group will help make you more accountable, as well as be that support for somebody else. Whatever it is though, find friends who will support your goals.

6. Your workout isn’t just about you.
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Massive disparities in health and fitness haunt our communities. We often frame our well-being in terms of only ourselves, but health and well-being is a community issue. Committing to others positively impacts the community as well as our own well-being.

You can become a coach or aid at a youth camp. You can run with organizations like Girls on the Run or Back on My Feet. You can “get swoll” to support Lift4Life and fund equipment and nutrition for low-resource communities. Find an organization or cause you want to support and make them part of your health goals.

7. Stop drinking so much.
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Post-college social life frequently revolves around alcohol. It’s not healthy for you. All that alcohol dehydrates you, adds excess calories, and (if you’re like me) leads to consuming awful amounts of deep-fried-deliciousness.

Seriously, you just have to find alternative methods of socializingmy preferred methods are hiking, board games, and frisbee.

8. Eat right. AND EAT!
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You have to. Your metabolism starts to decrease around age 25, changing how much and what you should eat. Weight loss obsessions often want us to eat less, but that can be dangerous and actually lead to muscle loss, thus making us looking a tad flabbier. Not to mention, external stressors change both our eating and digesting patterns.

These are where developing good habits comes in. Find a friend who can split costs, planning, and meal prep. Change a meal a day from awful to healthy. And make sure you eat! Even if you’re rushed, feel stressed, or think you don’t have time, few things throw off your metabolism, make you hungrier, and make you more unhealthy than skipping a meal. Lastly, dieting typically doesn’t make you lose weight – adding muscle does.

9. Sleep.
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You have to. If you were anything like me, you pulled lots of all-nighters in college and were pretty awful about getting sleep. Poor sleeping patterns increases weight gain, reduces energy and metabolism, and decreases your ability to exercise. Not sleeping ruins your fitness.

Almost nothing increases your well-being like getting enough sleep. Set a designated time when your phone and other tech goes off or into airplane mode. Spend 10 minutes doing deep breathing exercises before bed and your well-being drastically increases.

10. Put down your mobile device.
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Using tech before going to sleep increases cortisol in your brain, making you more awake and alert. It also makes you more anxious. In your waking hours, technology increases isolation while decreasing your social interactions and the accompanying happiness.

Reducing your overall screen time will improve your health: it gets you up and going, encourages social interaction, and allows your brain to better transition to sleep, and reduces all the ads for unhealthy junk.

11. Find the cheap options.
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Hiding behind a tree or trying to participate in fitness classes from afar? Can’t afford the fancy gym membership? Check out resources like your local community center or the YMCA.

For example, in Milwaukee, our local community centers offer eight weeks of dance fitness classes for forty dollars. Community centers often have great adult rec-leagues. The YMCA offers fantastic programs at low prices that benefit the wider community. And what’s cheaper than free? (Besides getting paid). Go hiking, running, walking, or play outside!

12. Play!
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“Working out is boring. I hate sitting on the treadmill. Lifting is dumb.”

Your workout doesn’t have to be running, lifting, or doing yoga. Playtime is incredibly important, including for adults. I’m gonna say it againrec-league. It increases endorphins, improves social interactions, and makes you happier. As my rather competitive sister notes, play even makes us more ethical.

13. Pray.
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“I just don’t have time to do everything.”

That’s right – you can combine prayer and fitness as well. You may want to try Ignatian Yoga. Or you might want to just do an examen while you lift weights. Perhaps a prayer while running is more your route. Whatever it is, these healthy habits make for a stronger mind, body, and spirit.

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Looking for more advice about how to transition away from college? Check out TJP‘s After College series!

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Cover image courtesy US Air Force, found here.

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Teach Them How to Pray Goodbye

In the little-known Broadway musical “Hamilton: An American Life” there is a song, One Last Time, in which George Washington is telling Alexander Hamilton how important it is to teach future Presidents how to say goodbye.  During my years of working in Higher Education, I’ve witnessed how rushed the last couple of months are for people graduating as they leave a place that has become home and transition to grad school, work, or maybe unemployment.  With that in mind, I touched base with two great campus ministers, Anna Ryan at Saint Peter’s University and Lauren Schwer at Loyola University Chicago, to speak about their experience working with folks saying goodbye.

Why is it important to say goodbye:

Anna:

When I was praying my way out of JVC, one JVC staff member encouraged us to think about saying goodbye/farewell through these steps: feel, celebrate, forgive, set-off. As I’ve moved around a lot since graduating college, I have used these simple yet profoundly beautiful words to help me pray my own goodbyes. I find that they, like the Examen, help me to walk through an experience honestly, without rose-tinted glasses, to name the grace and the struggle and to give thanks to the God who walked with me through it all.

Goodbyes are hard, often because they invite a depth of vulnerability that we don’t often live out of in daily life. But they are important because, among many other things, they allow us the opportunity to acknowledge who we are as a result of our experiences and relationships – who we are as part of a community. They call us to hold the tension between grief and gratitude for what is finished. And they challenge us to name how we have been changed and, like the Magi after visiting Christ in the manger, how because of our experiences we will go home a different way.

Lauren:

Anna’s response is far deeper than I was planning on writing because I got all caught up in Hamilton and also a long conversation at a lunch with a group of seniors today who are thinking about Irish goodbye-ing college.

It’s important to say goodbye because it gives a ritualized opportunity to name what someone has meant to you. Anna mentioned vulnerability – I think when you don’t have to worry about when you’ll see them next, you are more likely to be more honest, more appreciative of individual gifts, and less likely to hold back on sharing those moments.  As I’ve been saying goodbye to people this week, it gives me a chance to name for students what I’ve appreciated in them while they’ve been here…and it feels sincere and less awkward than if I had shared that with them previously. It allows you to pause and be grateful for the different ways people have changed you or impacted you in some way. It honors the good. And we live in a world that doesn’t always get to honor all the good because there is so much anguish and challenge that takes our energy.  

But last thought…goodbye does not have to be a forever thing. When I talk to students, I remind them that there are a million ways to be in touch. That I haven’t lived in the same city as my best friends in 8 years and I’m closer to them now than I was then. That even if you and your best friends lived in the same city/down the street the rest of your lives, other parts of life would start taking priorities and you couldn’t spend every waking moment together.  So saying goodbye helps, knowing it isn’t all over helps, and giving people the freedom to say that relationships can change and grow, even away from this space…helps.

They could have helped George Washington write one heck of a goodbye.  Too bad he only had Hamilton to help him. Anna mentioned how important The Examen has been, and I agree that can be really helpful to pray goodbye.  

An Examen for Graduation:

Gratitude: It’s easy to just say I’m thankful for this time.  During this time be specific, who are the people you are thankful for? Which experiences will you never forget? What places will always be sacred to you?

Presence: From this moment of gratitude, pause to ask God to be present to you review your time in college, to look at it as honestly as possible at all the joys and all the sorrows, the early morning classes, the late night stumbles, the first semester friendships, and the ones that lasted.  A: Pay attention to your feelings and emotions. Be honest with yourself and others about how you are doing — moving from college into post-grad life is a huge transition that will only naturally result in feeling out of sorts at times. Don’t think about how you should be feeling, just pay attention to how you are.

Remember: How do you review four years? Take a breath, this is an exercise of trust, allow God to lead you.  A place to start might be on day 1. What was it like moving into your room? What was it like driving on to campus and finding the building for your first class?  What emotions do you remember? Spend time at that moment with God, and then let God lead you to those later memories, some forgotten and some as fresh as the spring flowers.  There is no need to rush. L: Let yourself feel whatever you are feeling whenever you feel it. If you are super excited, be excited. If you need to cry, cry. Be gentle with yourself and recognize that any of those emotions might change at any given moment.

One Last Time: As you reviewed the years, was there a memory or a specific theme that emerged during your time with God?  Spend time talking with God about this, it might be an opportunity to ask for forgiveness, express gratitude, or just remember.  L: Name what growth has occurred and create a plan of how to remain connected to that growth.  This could mean ritualizing it, drawing something, connecting to a parish or a place to find a spiritual director.

Looking forward: Transitions can be tough. Just because you have graduated that does not mean the next chapter is exactly clear.  What emotions are you feeling about what is coming next? Be as honest as possible. Praying through the transition is an on-going project. A: Invite God into your daily life, asking for what you need as you transition — some grace/patience with yourself and others, perhaps?

There is no one right way to say goodbye to an experience that can be life changing. So in the words of the great Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin, “Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete”. From all of us at TJP, you are in our prayers.  

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Stay tuned to The Jesuit Post’s “After College” series in the coming weeks as we continue offering advice on what college graduates should expect as they transition away from college.

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Cover image courtesy FlickrCC user Illinois Springfield, found here.

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Theology of the Body for Today: A Jesuit Post Book Review

Youth from across the world gathered this spring to create a document to help the upcoming Synod on Bishops understand their questions and concerns. Not surprisingly, they wanted “our leaders [to] speak in practical terms about controversial subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues.” They have honestly held questions about how what the Catholic Church has to say about sexuality relates to their own experiences of what it means to be human and to love, as well as the experiences of those around them. Answering those questions means first finding ways to express what the Church is saying, and so projects like St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” and Fr. Thomas Petri’s recent book Aquinas and the Theology of the Body can be helpful.

“Theology of the Body” was a series of weekly talks John Paul II gave starting in 1979. In 130 bite-sized lectures, he discussed sex, gender, marriage, love, and just about everything that goes along with having a body. Since its publication, it has been re-translated, and various Catholic groups and speakers, including Christopher West, Dawn Eden Goldstein, and Jason and Chrystalina Evert have brought them into the popular sphere.

What Fr. Petri seeks to do with his own book is to get us thinking more critically about what John Paul II was trying to do with his Theology of the Body. In particular, Fr. Petri looks at how John Paul II was bringing Catholic thought, especially the thought of Thomas Aquinas, into conversation with our experiences today as he presented the Church’s views on what it means to be embodied. As Fr. Petri notes, John Paul II drew greatly upon St. Thomas while “searching for a way to move beyond Thomistic philosophy and theology in order to include human experience as a theological category” (p. 6).

John Paul II’s inclusion of human experience, and Fr. Petri’s highlighting experience as a theological category, is a large part of what makes John Paul II’s lectures and Fr. Petri’s current book so valuable to the current conversation about sexual morality. The Pre-Synodal document noted that some people “perceive [Jesus] as distant from the human experience, which for them is a distance perpetuated by the Church.” If we are able to help people see the Church present to human experiences in this area, that could go a long way in healing the perception of distance in general.

In the first major chapter, Fr. Petri gives a history of Catholic moral theology from Thomas to Vatican II. He notes that a major problem was that moral theology tended to get reduced to what priests needed to know in order to hear confessions. This isolated morality from a larger vision of creation or the spiritual life, and made morality seem like a set of arbitrary, external rules.

By the late 1960s, this feeling of arbitrariness exploded with a series of fights over Catholic morality that are still playing out today. Karol Wojtyła (the future John Paul II) decided to go back to Aquinas, who did want to keep morality in touch with a larger cosmic vision, while also drawing upon a new philosophy called Phenomenology, which seeks to take seriously the experiences of individual persons. By uniting the objective vision of Thomas with the subjective emphasis of Phenomenology, John Paul II sought a new way forward in presenting Catholic morality, one that could speak to people of today.

In the last few chapters, Fr. Petri then goes in for a closer look at Aquinas’s vision, first of what it means to be human, then his views on love, then his views on marriage. For both Aquinas and John Paul II, marriage and sexuality are never just isolated realities, but always part of the larger picture of what it means to be human. Fr. Petri is sensitive to this, and likewise is careful to keep the discussion situated in a larger context. Moreover, Fr. Petri shows how Aquinas’s own thoughts matured over time, especially as the concept of friendship enters more and more explicitly into his writings on marriage.

Overall, Fr. Petri has made a fine contribution both to the study of John Paul II and Thomas Aquinas. He has a clear and efficient style of writing that makes his book accessible to anyone interested, while having enough depth and substance to be of interest to specialists. Perhaps most importantly, Fr. Petri (following John Paul II) sees a place for people’s experiences and makes Catholic morality seem like much more than arbitrary rules. Young people around the world have questions about Catholicism, and are unsure of how it can speak to their own experiences. Fr. Petri shows in his book that the path John Paul II charted with his Theology of the Body may be a way forward in helping speak to these questions.

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One-Minute Homily: “Waiting on the World to Change”

How often are we like the Apostles at the Ascension: just staring and waiting for the world to change? In this week’s One-Minute Homily, Emanuel Werner, SJ, reminds us that we can’t just wait around. Based on the readings for Sunday, May 13, 2018, which you can find here: https://bit.ly/2GL7XmT

 

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